Alzheimer’s is not a disease that just affects memory, as many people who haven’t had firsthand experience might assume. Alzheimer’s affects your entire body, from the way you swallow to the coordination it takes to walk and talk at the same time. Now, researchers are seeing that how quickly your walk might indicate your risk for dementia.
In a study of over 4,000 adults as part of the English Longitudinal Study on Aging, researchers found that they could predict dementia risk by analyzing the speed of a person’s natural gait. The walking habits of participants, who were all over 60 years old, were observed between 2002 and 2003 and again between 2004 and 2005. Researchers used a simple walking test, asking the participants to walk a distance of eight feet at a normal pace while they were timed. Then, the researchers tested participants for dementia from 2006 to 2015.
When they compared those who developed dementia and those who did not, they noticed that those with a slower walking speed were more likely to develop dementia. For people whose speed declined quickly over two years, the risk was raised even more.
The results echoed those found in population studies in France, Sweden and Japan. But researchers note that although there was a correlation between dementia risk and walking speed, a change in walking speed does not necessarily affect the risk for dementia—it’s simply an association. However, it is one that could help identify who might be at risk for dementia in a cheap, non-invasive way, and it provides hints as to how dementia may manifest in the years before cognitive symptoms are obvious.
In the future, researchers hope to conduct studies that might illuminate what factors drive the association between speed of walking and dementia risk.
This study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.